3 road meets will begin NAU’s defense of WAC swim title

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                </div>  The Northern Arizona University women swimmers and divers will have their second, and last, intrasquad meet tomorrow afternoon when they present this year’s edition to their fans in the […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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The Northern Arizona University women swimmers and divers will have their second, and last, intrasquad meet tomorrow afternoon when they present this year’s edition to their fans in the annual Blue vs. Gold scrimmage in the Wall Aquatic Center.

But after that, the defending Western Athletic Conference (WAC) champions will have to pack their bags for a couple of road trips that have them competing in their first three meets of the 2014-15 season away from home. They take on New Mexico first on Oct. 25 and then make the trek through the Northwest the next weekend to meet WAC rival Idaho and Washington State from the Pac-12.

A tough way to start the season, but the Jacks’ head coach, Andy Johns, sees it as an advantage of sorts.

“Getting on the road and facing a quality opponent like New Mexico to begin the season will be good for us,” Johns said when the schedule was first released during the summer.  “The first meet of the year is always exciting, and it’ll be great competition.  That will get us ready for the big road trip to the Northwest.”

It will be a lot different this year as the team tries to find its game as early as possible.  It won’t be like last year, when there were nine seniors on the roster that provided the experience and leadership necessary to carry the program to the school’s first-ever WAC title and a No. 25 national ranking by the close of the season.

This year finds just two seniors on board: Caitlin Wright, a local recruit from Sabino High School in Tucson, and Alexis Juergens from Utah.

Last year’s seniors contributed a combined 200 points that will be missing this year.

Johns acknowledges the loss, but feels this year’s squad can overcome it:  “With our incoming freshmen, we’ll be good in different ways.”

This will be a youth-dominant team this year.  A total of 10 freshmen and five sophomores are scattered throughout the line-up.  And some of the frosh are already stepping up early.

At last month’s annual Pentathlon, the first intrasquad event of the pre-season, it was freshmen Melania Harris and Audrey Mann that took the second and third spots in the 200 IM, and three of the top four spots in the 100 freestyle went to freshmen.  Freshman Alina Staffeldt posted the fastest time ((100.05) in the freestyle and also joined with Juergens in breaking the previous Pentathlon record in the butterfly.

A sophomore, Jori Lindquist, finished in third place overall, and a pair of juniors took the top two spots. Kendall Brown, the two-time defending WAC champion in the 1,650 freestyle, won the event and Monica Pruett, an All-WAC second team selection in the sprints last year, came in second.

The Pentathlon, which did not include the divers, is a five-event meet that is designed to test the swimmers’ endurance and versatility.  It’s a chance for the returning swimmers to step up and demonstrate their readiness to compete this season.

But, ready or not, the season opener is just two weeks away.  The Jacks beat New Mexico last year at home in the season opener and also defeated Idaho at home – but lost to them when the meet was held the previous year in Moscow (Idaho).  Washington State took a narrow win over the Jacks in 2012.

And for the 10th consecutive year, NAU will open the New Year by traveling to Tucson on Jan. 2 to take part in a Pac-12 dual meet with Arizona and Oregon State.

“It’s a balanced and challenging schedule and hopefully it’ll prepare us for the end of February (WAC championships),” says Johns.  “There’s a lot that goes into repeating (as conference champs).  We need to really race a lot in January and February, whether that’s with simulated practices or by adding another meet.

“But we’ll be ready.”

(Photo: NAU Athletics)